Menopause in the Workplace

by Pat Duckworth

What is menopause?

Menopause is the term that is generally used to refer to the years of women’s lives on each side of their last menstrual period. Medically speaking, however, this is the ‘perimenopause’, while menopause is actually defined as the time of a woman’s last menstrual period.

In general, menopause can occur as early as age 45 or not until 55, with perimenopause starting several years earlier and carrying on for several years after periods cease. However, this process can all start much earlier or much later and the average age in the UK is 52.

The whole phase of the decline of reproductive hormone production and fertility is known as the ‘climacteric’. This stage may last from 15 to 20 years between the ages of 40 and 60. It is often compared to the years of puberty and adolescence because of the hormonal turmoil and the changes to the body that are associated with it.

‘Premature ovarian failure’ (POF) or ‘premature menopause’ refers to menopause that occurs before the age of 40. This can be precipitated by illnesses and medical interventions, including radiotherapy and hysterectomy, but in up to 70 per cent of cases there is no obvious medical reason.

During perimenopause, women come towards the end of the reproductive stage of their lives. The supply of eggs reduces and the levels of those hormones associated with reproduction – oestrogen and progesterone – begins to decline. This results in the end of menstruation and physical changes to the body.

Men experience some menopausal-type symptoms as their hormone levels change in later life. This period is known as ‘andropause’.

For the remainder of this topic, we will use the medically incorrect ‘menopause’, to refer to the perimenopause.